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Sunday, March 3, 2024

From Student Athlete to Sports Business Professional: How to Bring Your A-Game Everyday

By: Natalie P. Mikolich, @npmikolich

More than ever before students are participating in collegiate sports with the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) reporting over 460,000 student athletes playing in 23 sports at over 1,200 universities in three divisions this school year.

And, while more than eight out of ten student-athletes will earn a bachelor’s degree, and more than 35 percent will earn a post-graduate degree (per the NCAA), getting to their first career opportunity may not be as easy as one might think for a student athlete.

While many full-time students are busy attending classes, participating in internships and working part-time to get ahead of the game before they graduate college, student athletes have a full time job while in college just juggling their class schedules, studying any free moment they get, making practice times and traveling on the road with the team which doesn’t leave much time for anything else (including having a so-called normal “social life” like the rest of the students on campus — trust me those 6:00 am wake-up calls for practice are painful whether you went out or not the night before).

On the flip side though, student athletes are getting to experience triumphs and opportunities others dream they could be a part of all while learning valuable life and career development lessons for their futures even though they might not realize it at the time.

With the tremendous growth of the student athlete body population over the years recently, there has also become an increased focused to assist these students during these transitions from college life to work life so that they are fully prepared to enter the “real word” and have the same internship and career opportunities as their peers.

Because of this, new businesses have launched catering to student-athletes, university athletic departments and even employers looking to hire student athletes like the Game Theory Group (https://gametheorygroup.com/) out of North Carolina that is offering a comprehensive “game plan” for all groups involved.

Although services and companies like Game Theory Group weren’t around in my tennis swinging days (first at the University of Florida on their NCAA Division I Team Champions and then at the University of Miami on their women’s varsity tennis team), I know I am not the only former student athlete who is glad they are here today for everyone else.

Like many other student athletes who are approaching graduation, we first look to our sport when seeking out career opportunities including many of those in the sports business field. Regardless though of what industry or position we end up at, we have learned and acquired some pretty tremendous skills and “intangibles” from our competitive sports playing days to carry with us on our career journeys.

Here is a closer look at seven of these intangibles we student-athletes possess (although like I said some may not know it) and how they apply to working in the sports business industry today whether you played collegiate sports or not so you can be prepared to bring you’re A-Game every day.


It all starts with determination. Determination to become a better athlete by improving your skills and your game, determination to win and determination to reach your goals. These all go hand-in-hand when you enter the workforce and sometimes even before you do like when trying to find a valuable internship opportunity. For the most part these days, internship and job opportunities don’t just come knocking on your door but instead you have to knock on someone’s door until you get your foot in the door. And once you do, it doesn’t stop there. You must be determined to accomplish the tasks at hand, reach the milestones set for your position and be determined to succeed for the long-term if you want to make it in the sports business industry which is nearly as competitive sometimes as being a collegiate or professional athlete.

Time Management

Many days in sports business it just doesn’t seem like there are enough hours in the day to do everything we want to get done or accomplished. Having discipline, learning to prioritize things (like those that are really time sensitive and those that aren’t — like spending some extra time scrolling on twitter for breaking news and other updates of those we “follow”) and juggling numerous tasks at one time is something student-athletes are very familiar with and something others working in sports business might be wanting to get better at. Time management can be crucial and make or break a lot of things in sports business, especially with how fast they move with the evolution of social media in our lives.

Find A Way

Like a lot of student athletes learn the hard way from playing competitive sports, when “Plan A” doesn’t go accordingly you need to have a “Plan B.” This also applies in the work world and more often than we would like. Just like when playing sports, if your strategies, game plays and tactics just aren’t working to get the result you want (like winning), you have to find another way. Although it might be difficult for some athletes to shift game plans in the moment for various reasons like time constraints and physical capabilities, in our everyday jobswe have plenty of time to come up with a Plan B even before Plan A goes into effect. FIND A WAY to make it work…on the court, on the field and in our jobs.


Similar to “finding a way,” perseverance can be crucial as a student athlete and also in our everyday positions in sports business. As the saying goes, “when the going gets tough, the tough gets going” so don’t let it get you down and out. In sports, we win and we lose, we have good days and we have bad days, but we always have perseverance to keep us moving forward. Similar to when we are working in the real world, there are going to be times when things just don’t go our way, when we experience setbacks or even face major road blocks but having perseverance will help carry us through them for the long haul.

Strive to Improve

One common trait amongst highly competitive and most student athletes is that for better or worse, we are never fully satisfied with our performance and we are always striving to improve. We want to become faster, stronger, tougher and better at whatever we do and whichever sport we play. This “striving to improve” mentality should also be applied when we enter the work world or at any point throughout our careers in sports business. We should all be working towards improving certain areas or fine tuning our skill sets along being a student for life. Like when playing sports, one should never get too complacent with where they are at because there will always be others out there working hard to improve and exceed them. Stay humble, stay hungry always.

Lead By Example

Ahhhh yes…the old “lead by example” phrase. Something that doesn’t just apply to sports and work, but to many other areas of our daily lives as well. However, this is very important to many athletes who play on a team and for a lot of those who work at large organizations in sports business or even small close knit groups. Like when playing sports, you want to be the first one to practice or the last one to leave, put in the time at study hall, give 100% every day and at every game (or match) and be someone that your teammates can look up to and rely on. Having the ability to be a leader on your sports team is equally as important as having the ability to be a leader at your organization in order to show you can handle the responsibility and are capable of bigger and better things to come.

Show Up Everyday

When you are a student athlete, you rarely have days off during the semesters between classes, studying, practice, competition and team travel. Just like working in sports where there really are NO days off, showing up every day and striving to do your best can be demanding. Although there are all days we need to give our bodies a rest as an athlete so that we can recover physically (and mentally), we also need to be “mindful” of this while on the job working. When you are present though on the job, you need to be prepared to physically and mentally to show up every day and give 150% at what you do just like when playing sports. If you are going to tackle something, tackle it the right way and with everything you’ve got.

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